Monday, March 30, 2009

Hatha 2 with Azmi

Yesterday was my first class with Azmi again after more than three months. I was a bit apprehensive at first about going to his class and did not sign up for his Dynamic trial class. Although I have been attending two classes weekly with Lila, I was afraid that I would not be able to keep up with Azmi’s class as the classes I been having with Lila were a gentler type with more stretching and opening poses. But when the class was changed to Hatha 2, I decided to attend the class as I could not resist a class with my favourite teacher.

Before the class started, Azmi told us to listen to his instructions for the poses and to remain in a state of stillness when holding the pose and to use our breathe to help us go deeper into the pose.

Azmi started the class with us doing five rounds of sun salutations with some poses intersperse in between. I am quite happy that I was able to do all the sun salutations with the full chaturanga as I had thought that my arms would be too tired after three rounds.

It was an all-rounded class as there were standing, sitting, twisting and even a few arm-balancing poses and although it was a Hatha 2 class, it was more like a flow class as we were doing the vinyasa after a few asanas for each side. Towards the end of the class, I had to skip some of the vinyasas and go straight to downward dog as I could feel my energy depleting especially with the hot sun shining down on us.

During the class, I noticed that I had become more aware of my breathing as well as my movements especially when I am in downward dog (guess researching about it for my pose of the month really help me to understand the pose better).

All in, it was a great class (Namaste, Azmi!) and I felt more energized instead of being tired after the class.

Beyoga is having a free Karma Yoga class every Sunday which is open to everyone. Proceeds from any purchase or donation at the class will be forwarded to a needy foundation or centre for health research that have been pre-chosen for that particular day. Yesterday, the proceeds went to Save our Seahorses (SOS), a non-profit group committed to conserve the Pulai River Estuary, using the seahorse as a flagship species. You can also contribute to the group by signing the petition online, participate in SOS volunteer program or donating in cash or in kind.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Free trial classes at beyoga

I attended the free trial class which Ninie called “karma yoga” class on Monday and will be going for another class this evening. Lila, another of my favourite teacher besides Azmi, is teaching both the classes. All the trial classes will be held at the poolside in Metropolitan Square as renovation at the beyoga studio has not been completed.

I saw quite a few familiar faces (ex-YZ members) at the class. One of them said that he had stopped practicing yoga since July 2008 but when he found out that beyoga is opening near his neighbourhood (he works and stays at Damansara Perdana), he has no reasons not to continue his yoga practice.

There were also many new faces at the trial class on Monday who are beginners to yoga and they were struggling in some of the poses (it was a Hatha 1 class) but Lila gave us some options for the poses with the child pose as an alternative if anyone needed a rest.

The trial classes at beyoga are from 23 till 31 March 2009 and you can register for the classes online. You can also find out more news and announcement of beyoga’s packages pricing at Ninie’s blog.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Eat Breakfast To Lose Weight

Do you know that eating breakfast can help you to lose weight? Research has shown that people who skip breakfast tends to consume more calories throughout the day as they will indulge in impulse nibbling and tend to overeat at lunch and dinner.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the the day as eating a significant meal early in the day also ensures our body’s leptin production. Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite which leads to fewer calories consumed throughout the day.

However, what we eat for breakfast may affect what we eat later on. Eating refined carbohydrates such as sugary cereals, toasted white bread, waffles, or bagels will only send your blood-sugar plummeting and leave you starving in just an hour’s time and will likely begin an overeating cycle.

Instead, feed yourself with a healthy breakfast of complex carbs, proteins and fats which should keep you from snacking before lunch and throughout the day.

Here are some examples of quick and healthy breakfast you can try:

- Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana
- A bowl of high-fiber cereal with low-fat milk and blueberries
- Whole-egg or egg white omelets with fresh or frozen veggies
- Blend fruit and yogurt to make a shake or smoothie
- Cold turkey and cheese wrapped in a pita
- Whole wheat muffin topped with raisins

You can also add in fruits such as an apple, a slice or two of papaya or watermelon.

So jump start your metabolism each morning with a healthy breakfast!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Yoga Pose For the Month - Downward Dog

From this month onwards, I will choose a pose to be My Yoga Pose of the Month. For the month of March, the pose is Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).

We do the Downward Dog many times during a yoga class as it is used as a transitional pose for some of the poses as well as a resting pose. Most of us take this pose for granted and quite often the pose is not done properly for us to reap the benefits from it. Do you know that the Downward Dog is a great shoulder and chest opener? For most of us who are constantly bending forward as we hunched over our computer and office desk, the Downward Dog helps to stretch and lengthens the back shoulders and front body. The Downward Dog pose also helps to build strength in the upper arms and stretch the hamstrings, calves and ankles. As the Downward Dog is a mild inversion, it helps to increase blood flow to the brain and eyes. The pose also teaches you a lot about awareness and offers valuable knowledge that enhance the rest of your practice.

1. Come to your hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders, hands about shoulder-width apart, knees underneath the hips. On an inhalation, lift your hips up towards the roof and, on an exhalation, lower your heels gently towards the floor, straightening out your legs.

2. Look at your hands – they should be shoulders-width apart and your wrist line should be parallel to the front edge of your mat. Check that your fingers are spread apart and the middle fingers should point straight ahead. Spread your weight evenly through your hands and feet and move your chest towards your thighs.

3. Lengthen your spine by raising your hips and pushing your tailbone upwards, while lengthening the crown of your head towards the floor. Tuck in your chin and gaze towards your navel or knees. Draw in your abdominal muscles towards the spine.

4. Outwardly rotate the upper arms to create space between your shoulders and ears. Move the shoulder blades away from the ears towards the hips. Relax your head and neck.

5. Ensure your feet are hip width apart and parallel, with toes pointing straight ahead. Rotate the thighs inward, keep the tail high and sink your heels to the floor. Try lifting your toes a little off the floor to get a real sense of extension through the backs of your legs.

6. Hold here for five deep, even breaths then release into child’s pose by resting the tailbone back on the heels, bringing the arms and hands back by your side, palms up, and resting your forehead on the mat.

Some points to note:

• Pay attention to your hips - they should tilt so that your back is flat, not rounded.

• Don't forget the quadriceps - your front thigh muscles. Tighten those muscles to lift the kneecaps. Spread your buttocks as you are tilting your hips - this will help the inner thighs move into alignment.

• Your armpits should face the floor and your arms should feel like they are lengthening and the torso should be lifting away from your arms. Your elbows should squeeze in towards one another.

• Instead of taking all the weight on the heels of the hands, press down with the knuckles where the fingers join the palms. Stretch the fingers forward and at the same time visualize lifting the forearms up and out of the wrists.

• If you have tight hamstrings, bend the knees slightly. By doing this, the weight of the pelvis can move up and back and the arms can stay straight and long. Thereby the whole back body still gets lengthened and as the hamstrings and calves loosen up from continual practice, you can slowly start to work into straighter legs.

• If you are very flexible, try not to let the rib cage sink towards the floor creating a sinking spine. Draw the ribs in to maintain a flat back.

"Be on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly above your wrists and then just lean back a bit onto your knees. Make sure your hands are set evenly, with your fingers spread, and lift the heels of your hands, keeping the ring of the knuckles and all fingers firmly pressed into the floor. When you do this, you should feel the muscles of your forearms charge up. Lower the heels of your hands, but keep that sense of the muscles of the forearms pulling up from the wrists. Be sure your elbows are in line with your head, and pull back strongly with your thighs. The weight for Downward Dog should be carried in the thighs - all of this should take weight off the wrists and start to strengthen them, rather than allowing them to be the weight-bearing victims of the pose. If you get it just right, it can feel like you are just floating on your hands, and standing firmly in your legs without much pressure on the wrists at all." (excerpt taken from article 'In Praise of Down Dog')

Monday, March 16, 2009

Natural Ways to Cut Cholesterol

Eat more “good” fats
Replace butter with olive oil, use skim milk instead of whole and try low-fat cuts of meats.

Check your thyroid
Hypothyroidism (having an underactive thyroid) if left untreated, can raise cholesterol levels significantly. Symptoms include tiredness, increased sensitivity to cold, hair loss, weight gain, joint stiffness and depression.

The combination of exercise and strategic eating can help to raise HDLs (the good cholesterol that transports LDLs away from artery walls). Exercise also lowers triglycerides, the other blood fat linked to heart disease.

Less Stress
Many studies indicate stress may increase the risk of heart disease.

Eat more Soluble Fibre
Abundant in oat bran, rice bran, beans, peas, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries, carrots and apples, this fibre brings down LDLs without lowering HDLs.

Eat more Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Found in salmon, mackerel and other fish, this fat can lower triglycerides. And since, fish is low in saturated fats, it is a great way to cut total cholesterol and LDLs too. Eat 85 to 110 grams several times a week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cobra or Upward Dog?

When I first started learning the Sun Salutation series, the teacher would asked us to do knees, chest and chin followed by the Cobra pose. I always find the Cobra pose not very comfortable as it puts pressure on my lower back. I started doing the Upward Dog pose when I attended the flow classes. During the vinyasas, I would do chaturanga followed by the Upward Dog pose. I prefer the Upward Dog pose which is more suitable for me as it helps to loosen my spine and shoulders.

I find the difference between the two poses is in how much I use my arms. In Upward Dog, the arms are straightened and the knees lifted off the floor. I can rely on my arms to get higher and the pose gives me more extension and more spine stretch. For the Cobra pose, the arms do not straighten and they are simply there as a support and it is the back and abs muscles doing all the work.

The Upward Dog Pose

Lie flat on your stomach with your legs extended. Place the palms of your hands directly under the shoulders, fingertips pointing forward. Slowly straighten your arms, pushing your chest and torso away from the floor beneath you. Relax your abdominals and pull the shoulders away from the ears. Look slightly upward towards the ceiling. Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds.

The Cobra Pose

Lie face down with your feet together and your toes pointing behind you. Place your hands flat on the floor close to your body and beside your rib cage. As you inhale, gently push off your hands, lifting your head and chest off the ground and tilting your head back.

The key to the Cobra is keeping your spine fully elongated throughout the entire pose. If you are in the basic Cobra and you are feeling pressure in your lower back, try stretching your body up, away from your hips, as if your tummy is stretching.

The Upward Dog pose helps to improve posture, strengthens the arms and wrists while the Cobra pose opens up the mid back (the thorasic spine) and strengthen the core muscles.

Both poses are great openers for the front of the body and for strengthening the spine and are also vital for maintaining a healthy back. Back bending postures like these counteract the damage done to our body through the course of our everyday routines.

By the way, check this link for information about Ninie and Azmi's studio - beyoga.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's Never Too Late To Get Fit

Despite the benefits, too many of us aren’t getting enough exercise. Do the excuses below sound familiar?

“I don’t have time”

This is the most frequently cited barrier to exercise. Active people have just as much or as little time as anyone else. It’s how you organize your time. Experts recommend 35-40 minutes of exercise a day. If that’s more than you can spare, you can break the exercise into ten-minute segments and still get the benefits.

“I’m not overweight”

If you think you’re healthy just because you are within your ideal weight range for your height, you are wrong. You need to work towards achieving your target heart rate while exercising. Count your pulse beats for ten seconds after 20 minutes of aerobic activity and multiply by six. If your heart is healthy, the number you get should be between 50 and 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate (generally calculated as 220 minus your age).

“I tried exercising and never lost weight”

Middle age brings many things including a slower metabolism that makes it easy to pack on the kilos. Many people start exercising because they want to lose weight, and when that doesn’t happen immediately, they may give up. Take note that the same volume of muscle weighs more than fat, so you may still weigh the same as you gain muscle bulk.

“I can’t afford a gym membership”

You do not need to join a gym to start your fitness regimen. You just need a good pair of shoes. Walking is free. You could form an exercise group with your friends. If you are staying in a condo, make use of the swimming pool and other facilities available there.

“I’m too far gone”

You are never too old or out of shape to start exercising. However, if you are over the age of 45, you should get your doctor’s assessment before undertaking exercise for the first time. Exercise should be started slowly and built up to higher levels over a period of time. Non-impact exercises suitable for everyone include swimming, walking and yoga.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Your Health, By the Numbers

You know your height and weight, but what about these other indicators of health?

Body Mass Index (BMI)

A measure of body fat. Divide your weight in kilos by your height in metres squared: 18.5 to 24.9 is healthy, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, 30 and over is obese.

Waist circumference

An indicator of abdominal fat, which predicts heart disease risk. Wrap a tape measure round your waist. Over 87.5 centimetres for women and 100 for men increases your risk.

Waist-to-hip ratio

This figure (waist size divided by hip size) shows where you carry weight. For men, 0.90 or less is safe, for women, 0.80 or less.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure (BP) which remain elevated indicates that you may have hypertension (high blood pressure) and carries a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

A blood pressure reading of 140/90mmHg or more is considered high.

"While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us - Ben Franklin"

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Partner Yoga

Yesterday evening private class with Lila was a partner yoga session. My partner was my sister and as we differ in ability, flexibility, weight and height, performing the poses was quite a challenge. The poses involve one partner supporting the other in the poses. Lila made sure that each of us has the opportunity to practice both roles.

I find that partner yoga is about building trust and sensitivity to your partner’s needs. I have to be aware of how my sister feels during the pose, listen to her needs and make sure that I am not hurting her by pulling to hard. At the same time, both of us need to trust each other to be able to go into the poses comfortably.

The poses in partner yoga helped to open up my tight hamstrings, shoulders and hips and through the assistance of my sister, I was able to experience an opening that I wasn’t able to reach on my own. We also used each other's support to keep in correct body alignment for some of the poses.

With Lila’s creativity in introducing the poses, it was a fun session and at the same time helped us to relax and concentrate on the poses.

Click here if you would like to know more about Partner Yoga and here for videos on partner yoga poses.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Yin Yoga

Have you been doing only the “yang” styles of yoga which is the active practices which primarily focus on movement and muscular contraction? Do you find that your limbs have limited range of motions even though you have been practicing for some time? It may be time to discover the missing half – the “yin” style of yoga that works the deep tissues of the body.

Yin Yoga is characterized by passive asanas held for several minutes each. Yin Yoga targets connective tissue, specifically those in the hips, thighs and lower spinal areas. Yin Yoga helps to stretch those connective tissues and over time, the practice of yin yoga can lengthen these tissues increasing their flexibility.

I noticed that Yin Yoga is less popular with most practitioners, as most of them prefer the faster paced “yang” yoga which stimulates the muscles in the body, encouraging strength and great physical health. However, if Yin Yoga is not practiced, over time the body will weaken and the joints of the body will become susceptible to injury. As one ages, a lack of flexible joints in the body increases the risk of pain.

During the practice of yin yoga, the practitioner holds an asana for three to five minutes, allowing one's awareness and breath to be directed to a particular part of the body. Because of the long duration of the asanas, certain poses can be quite challenging, if not for the body, at least for the mind! As such, one of the key values cultivated in the practice of yin yoga is patience.

Yin Yoga is a very effective way to relieve stress, quiet the mind, to open up your hips, hamstring and lower spine, as well as to improve health and well-being.

Read article from Paul Grilley on Yin Yoga and click here for Yin Yoga poses.